Developing Target Language Teaching

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Every now and again on Facebook groups such as Global Innovative Language Teachers, Secondary MFL Matters and Secondary MFL in Wales, a discussion will arise surrounding the use of target language.  Almost all responses advocate regular use of the target language.  My first Head of Department would emphasise how target language use needed to be “judicious”.  By that he meant appropriate to the group and well-thought out by the teacher.  A brief search of the aforementioned Facebook groups suggests anything in the region of 70-80% of teacher talk should be in the target language.  Some teachers also make the point that any target language in class needs to be comprehensible to the majority of students.  This is illustrated most clearly by a story Rachel Hawkes tells of how a student developed the misconception that everything had to be done in ten days.  The teacher in her story was checking her class had understood tasks by using the Spanish phrase: “entendéis.”

 Almost every MFL blog out there has a post on target language so here is a small selection for your perusal.

Frenchteacher.net

Musicuentos

Gianfranco Conti

Ideal Teacher

Rachel Hawkes

You may well ask why I’m writing a post on target language use if it has been done already.  I wondered that for a while too!  This post is very much about developing teacher target language use.  This post is primarily for three types of people.

  1. PGCE trainees and NQTs getting to grips with using the TL in the classroom.
  2. Experienced teachers teaching another language, with which they are less familiar.
  3. Teachers who wish to increase their TL use.

This post draws on some experiences that I have had over the years.  I was once a PGCE trainee and an NQT.  I have had to teach a third language.  There have also been times where the amount of target language has dropped with a particular group and I have needed to raise it.  Here are some ways to get started:

Script the lesson

On my PGCE, I remember filling out 2-3 page lesson plans detailing all the things I was going to do.  Thankfully, my plans are shorter now.

Scripting interactions that I intend to have with a class can bring about some real improvements in TL use.  For a while I had to teach my weakest language (French).  To ensure that the students were getting a decent diet of TL, some scripting was necessary. By scripting the various aspects of the lesson: welcoming, admin (books out etc), instructions for activities, vocabulary to use during activities and finishing the lesson, I was able to give them that.

This approach does mean more work and is not always practical to do every lesson.  However, I think it pays off.  Over time the students grow accustomed to it and it becomes habitual for you.  It can have a beneficial effect in your strongest language too.  You may find that you can condense instructions, deliver more comprehensible input and also better integrate the language that students have learnt recently into your teaching.

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Yellow box

I was told by my previous Head of Department that a teacher he worked with had a yellow box painted on the floor of their classroom.  When in the yellow box, she would only speak TL .  Students realised that they needed to listen carefully when the teacher was in that position in the room as that is where instructions came from.  My former Head of Department said that teacher was one of the best at using the TL in a classroom that he had ever seen.  Your site team, SLT, caretaker or cleaner may have issues with this approach, masking tape may suffice!

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Count the instances.

This is exactly what it says.  Count the instances where you use target language and when you use English. If the emerging picture is more favourable towards target language then great, aim to build on it!  If not, then there is work to do!  If you are a PGCE trainee or NQT, a mentor could do this for you.  They could also look at the times English was used and suggest some changes to make.

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Ask for help.

When teaching French, I was fortunate to have two very supportive colleagues who would occasionally help me out with pronunciation, words I was unfamiliar with or aspects of French culture.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help, after all it means the students benefit!  Another way to develop is a non-judgemental peer-observation  Could an experienced colleague watch part of your lesson and offer some feedback on  your pronunciation or TL phrases you could use?

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Have a list

For a while I had a list of TL phrases in my weakest language stuck by my desk.  The textbook also had a great list in the back of the book!  Pick a new phrase or two you would like to use.  Try and get it into every lesson over a two or three week period.  You could put them at the top of a planner page for a week or so and try to use them.

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Listening activities

Listening activities traditionally come from textbooks but there is nothing to stop you devising your own.  It increases the amount of TL the pupils hear from you.  It is great pronunciation practice if you’re teaching a language you are less familiar with.  You can then pitch the listening at an appropriate pace.  You are free to remove the asinine additions where the people on the recording share a normally unfunny joke and your class are wondering: “what just happened?!”

Conclusion

Like any aspect of teaching, target language use can be improved.  Forming habits is tough (as anyone who has started using a gym will know).  It takes time.  Jason Selk from Forbes makes the point that Serena Williams did not stop practising her serve after 21 days, assuming she had it cracked.  She kept going and still does.  It is the same with us.  Teaching is a craft and to be a master of that craft takes time and deliberate practice.  Hopefully the ideas above play a small part in helping you develop, refine and improve your teaching.

Everyday Questioning

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Photo Credit: Ekspresevim Flickr via Compfight cc

A lot of subjects rely on questioning.  Teachers of English, History, Geography, Science and RE can elicit huge amounts of discussion, understanding and thought through questioning techniques.   Maybe your SLT are keen on Blooms, SAMR,  lolly sticks, think/pair/share or pose/pause/pounce/bounce.  It is first worth remembering that MFL is very different.  This quote sums up much of my thinking around questioning:

“language teaching is not like the teaching of, say, mathematics or history. Much of our questioning is of a special type, with the purpose of developing internalised competence with grammar, vocabulary and, ultimately, fluency. Language teachers must therefore treat the most recent recent pronouncements on questioning technique with at least a degree of scepticism.”  Quote from Steve Smith Frenchteacher.net

Steve mentions scepticism, not rejection.  I believe that other subjects do have a few things to teach us and some of the CPD I have experienced around questioning can and has been useful.

This post is about some ways to sharpen your questioning in MFL lessons in the classroom.  Some of the thoughts come from experience, others from seeing other colleagues.

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Hands up or no hands up?

In one school that I trained in, hands up was considered pure evil, you simply did not do it.  In the other school, hands up was fine. Since training and teaching I have tended to take a 50-50 approach.  I personally like to see the enthusiasm and speed of recall that hands up reveals.  I also like to challenge my students and keep them on their toes.

It seemed worth summarising the three approaches in a table below so you can make your own decision:

Hands up 50-50 No hands up
Pros Enthusiasm clear.
Students rewarded for effort.
Clear engagement and participation.
Effort rewarded.
Opportunities to build confidence.
Keeps pupils on toes whilst rewarding
keenness.
Keeps everyone on their toes.
Clear engagement
Students forced to pay greater attention.
Might be less likely to pick same kids.
Cons Some students will not put their hands up.
Tendency to pick the ones who know it.
Some students remain unchallenged,
Students will not always be clear on which
is required.
Some students find it very disconcerting.
Could be demoralising if they genuinely do
not know.

Think/pair/share

A much-used technique from other subjects that we can use in MFL.  Tom Sherrington writes about this as “washing hands of learning”.  I was slightly alarmed by the title but I see his point.  This can be a really useful technique when you have presented students with a grammar structure and you want them to work out how it works, rather than simply telling them.  Here is how it works:  THINK:  Give them at least 30 real seconds thinking time on their own (“teacher seconds” are a completely diifferent time frame). PAIR: discuss with partner or table group.  SHARE: share with the class or another group.  Tom writes “in doing this you are creating a small bubble of security around each pair; a safe space where they can think for a while and say whatever they like.”

Going off topic for a second.  Tom Sherrington was a headteacher and his series of pedagogy postcards and great lessons blogs were really useful in my first few years of teaching.  Worth a look.

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Targeted questioning

Who are you selecting?  Who is contributing in your lessons?  One of my colleagues (who will probably read this), talks about first responders and second responders.  I have tried to emulate this.  First responders are any of the following:

  • Pupil Premium, underachievers, disengaged.

Second responders are the rest of the class.

  • More able.
  • English as an additional language.
  • Special educational needs & disabilities.
  • The rest of the class.

Random name generators

Targeted questioning could also be brought about by random name generators.  I’ll be honest.  I am not a massive fan of lolly sticks.  It seems like a lot of preparation every year, you have to have somewhere to keep them and there is a yearly cost implication.  I used to use random name generators and have not used them for a while.  So that is my mission for this week.

Super Teacher Tools is a personal favourite

Classtools.net  has an excellent one

Have you tried stacking the generator slightly?  The first of the two above websites allows up to 40 names and maybe your class is only 28 strong.  Some names could accidentally find their way in there twice or three times.  If the kids start to question this then perhaps remind them that random means the same name could come up 3 times in a row.

You might want to consider when to use these generators as they will not always be appropriate:

Steve Smith (author of The Language Teacher Toolkit) writes the following:

“I understand the theory that we should have the same expectation of all students and that students need to be challenged and ready to respond at any time, but I also believe that as teachers we should be using our skill and knowledge of our students to pitch questions at an appropriate level. This is sensible differentiation. Each student can be challenged at their own level and we know all too well how great the variability is in language learning aptitude.”

With that in mind, let’s look at the next bit…

Planning your questions

There is a story that suggests a child was asked by an inspector what their favourite part of a lesson was.  The child replied “the plenary”.  The inspector was impressed that the child knew the word and pressed them as to why.  The child responded: “because that’s the bit when we get to pack up and go home”.

Most language teachers will conduct a plenary at the end of a lesson.  How many of the plenary questions do you genuinely plan ahead of that time?  Similarly, when you are teaching grammar, what questions have you planned to check understanding?  How are you going to seek the answers?  Who are you going to ask?  What questions could you add to challenge your high achievers?

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No opt out

This comes from Doug Lemov’s “Teach like a Champion”.  Doug insists that “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.   I would largely agree unless you have asked a question that all students might not know the answer to.  Looking at his ways of implementing this, my personal preference would be for formats 3 and 4.

Format 1. You provide the answer; your student repeats the answer.
Format 2. Another student provides the answer; the initial student repeats the answer.
Format 3. You provide a cue; your student uses it to find the answer.
Format 4. Another student provides a cue; the initial student uses it to find the answer

Source: teach like a champion field guide sample chapter

Occasionally on a reading text when going through answers I may accept that a student didn’t know the answer on number 3 but will tell them that I want the answer to number 8.  They have until I get there to find it.  This way you maintain your standard of everyone trying hard but accept they may simply not have found the answer.  You know your pupils and can decide when this is appropriate.

Keeping Year 9 going…

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It’s that time of year again.  Year 11 have gone.  Year 10 are thinking about work experience. Year 9s become that little bit more difficult to teach.

I got lucky this year.  I got a rather nice year 9 group.  They are a group with a mixture of middle and top set characters with a handful of lower ones thrown in.  The words mixed ability make the range of abilities sound wider than it is.

Over the past 5 years I have not been so lucky.  This post is an exploration of the variety of strategies I’ve tried.  The following picture does not represent a strategy but is definitely reflective of how it has felt at times:

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9×4 teaching aid.

Prepare a presentation/poster

Sometimes we do not get enough time to cover the extensive culture and history that surround the languages we teach.  Students prepare a presentation in groups of two or three to be delivered to their class.

How to vary it:

  • Give students a choice of delivery styles: interview, powerpoint and speech, podcast recorded using apps like spreaker , giant A2/A3 poster for corridor complete with text and pictures.  If you are a school with ipads then a whole world of possibilities are probably open to you (leave suggestions in the comments section).
  • To use TL or not to use TL.  With groups where most carry on til GCSE then insist on some TL, otherwise make the activity about presentation skills (perhaps colloaborate with English).
  • Horrible Histories.  Having met Terry Deary, the man is on to something.  The more gory or wacky it is; the more kids  will read about it.  Perhaps get your kids to go after the lesser known facts.
  • Ban certain websites.  Wikipedia is not always correct.  At university when I looked up the Spanish Civil War it turned out it was Manchester United’s sub goalkeeper!  Encourage use of reputable sources.
History Culture Geography
Guerra de independencia Don Quixote Espana
Islamic Conquest of Spain Gabriel Garcia Marquez Bolivia
The Inquistion Cataluna Peru
Colombus Castilla y Leon Paraguay
Spanish Civil War El País Vasco Chile
Franco Flamenco Ecuador
Juan Carlos de Borbon Tango Honduras
Zapatero Bullfighting Costa Rica
Ernesto Che Guevara Galicia Puerto Rico
Simon Bolivar Bunuel Venezuela
Al Andalus La tomatina Colombia
Eva Peron San Fermin Los Andes
Evo Morales Pedro Almodovar El salar de uyuni
Diego Maradona Las islas canarias Patagonia

Spanish survival kit

Everything needed for the casual tourist.  What does a holidaying student need?

WEEK THEME
1 Introductions

Name ¿Cómo te llamas? Me llamo …,

How are you + opinions¿Qué tal? ¿ Cómo estás?

Numbers 1 – 20, Age ¿Cuántos años tienes?

Alphabet,

2 Personal information

Where live ¿Dónde vives? Vivo en …

Holiday dates, times

3 Food and drink

Basic vocabulary

Ordering in a restaurant/bar/café

Complaining – this is not what I ordered etc

Money and shopping

Currency

Asking how much

Understanding larger numbers and prices

I would like Quisiera …

I like/don’t like Me gusta…/ No me gusta …

5 Directions

Asking where places are in a town ¿Dónde está …? Esta … ¿Hay … par aquí?

Understanding directions

6 Revision

There are obvious benefits to this approach.  It gives students some revision of the basics and prepares them for holidays.  The downside is that it is too simplistic for some.

Start GCSE

This is this year’s idea.  As a department we looked at the new specs and decided there was some stuff we have never taught.  So we decided to give it a go.  The results have been surprising.  Most students seem to have taken to it as they appreciate it is necessary for their classmates.  Other groups with slightly lower numbers of GCSE students have found it a bit tougher.  They do however appreciate the more advanced themes (global understanding) and focus on being able to make up stuff on the spot.  Rachel Hawkes writes that students judge their TL abilities based on what they can say and she is right.

A Film

“But SLT would never allow it!!” I hear you scream.  You may be right but at the same time there is a lot to be gained, if it is handled well.

Things to consider:

  • Get permission from parents, HoD and SLT if needed.
  • Make sure it is already on your scheme of work!  History show films regularly, why not mfl?
  • Create a worksheet with questions to provoke thought.
  • Give pupils a selection of words to find and switch the subtitles on.
  • Give pupils a synopsis to translate sections of before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to translate before starting.
  • Give the pupils some character bios to fill in during the film with multiple choice options.  Eg: Ramón es descapacitado / paralisado / activo
  • You could show them the trailer to give an overall picture.
  • You could give them a series of pictures from the film to put in order afterwards .(perhaps with a short Spanish explanation underneath.
  • You could write some true/false sentences for the students to work out.
  • You could make a multiple choice quiz based on the film using Kahoot to gauge their understanding of the film.

One of the most difficult GCSE groups I ever taught was spellbound watching el mar adentro.  17 boys, 2 girls and they were transfixed.  It also fed quite nicely into their Philosophy, Theology, Ethics lessons at the time.

Grammar Revision

If you have a group doing GCSE then take them on a grammar crashcourse.  I believe grammar teaching is important and it can be fun (post on quirky ways to teach grammar is coming soon).

Expo and Mira tend to cover something grammatical and then assume it is mastered at the end of that particular page.  The next time it is revisited, it will be similar but with something new added.  If you are following one of these schemes then you may find students are not quite as adept with the grammar as you would like.  Graham Nuthall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests students need three exposures to new concepts before they start to embed them.  If you are using the above textbooks, it is entirely possible that students will only have had one exposure to some concepts.

The Euros, world cup, Olympics, Women’s World Cup, Wimbledon

Use it as an opportunity to teach opinions and the future tense in the third person.  You could also use it to revise past tense, weather and a variety of vocabulary.  More ideas on Wimbledon can be found here with this shameless self-promotion link.

I think that … is going to win

In my opinion England will win etc.

Perhaps you do something different entirely, leave it in the comments section below!

Outstanding MFL everyday.

‘Hypothetical’ conversation overheard in staffroom:

Experienced teacher 1: “I delivered a number of outstanding lessons today”

Experienced teacher 2 “Ha! Your definition of an outstanding lesson is you putting your feet up while the kids are standing outside!”

Experienced teacher 1: “you saw them then!”

I’ve seen a lot of requests on TES forums, Twitter and Facebook for outstanding activities or an outstanding lesson on (insert topic here).  I’ve probably wished for a few myself in the past.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for something that works when you’re low on time and your desk is covered by paper and looks like a scale model of the himalayas. What makes an outstanding lesson is highly subjective and is based largely on the observations of the person watching.  I think even OFSTED realised this recently.  OFSTED say they will no longer grade individual lessons or learning walks.  This is good news, although they have to deliver a judgement on quality of teaching and learning across the school so some form of grading still has to take place (in their heads one assumes). Teaching and learning still has to be judged as outstanding/good/requires improvement/inadequate.

This is not a post on “how to play the OFSTED game” as the only OFSTED game to be played is simply high quality teaching and learning.  It is a post about the key ingredients for an outstanding lesson and how we might apply those in MFL teaching everyday.

Before we look at the ingredients.  Let’s hear it from the horses mouth:

Inspectors will use a considerable amount of first-hand evidence gained from observing pupils in lessons, talking to them about their work, scrutinising their work and assessing how well leaders are securing continual improvements in teaching. Direct observations in lessons will be supplemented by a range of other evidence to enable inspectors to evaluate the impact that teachers and support assistants have on pupils’ progress. Inspectors will not grade the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in individual lessons or learning walks.

Inspectors will consider:

  • how information at transition points between schools is used effectively so that teachers plan to meet pupils’ needs in all lessons from the outset – this is particularly important between the early years and Key Stage 1 and between Key Stages 2 and 3
  • whether work in all year groups, particularly in Key Stage 3, is demanding enough for all pupils
  • pupils’ views about the work they have undertaken, what they have learned from it and their experience of teaching and learning over time
  • information from discussions about teaching, learning and assessment with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff
  • parents’ views about the quality of teaching, whether they feel their children are challenged sufficiently and how quickly leaders tackle poor teaching
  • scrutiny of pupils’ work, with particular attention to:
  • pupils’ effort and success in completing their work, both in and outside lessons, so that they can progress and enjoy learning across the curriculum
  • how pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills have developed and improved
  • the level of challenge and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content, not necessarily ‘getting it right’ first time, which could be evidence that the work is too easy
  • how well teachers’ feedback, written and oral, is used by pupils to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. 

Source text here P44.

Outstanding (1)

  • Teachers demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways pupils think about subject content. They identify pupils’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.
  • Teachers plan lessons very effectively, making maximum use of lesson time and coordinating lesson resources well. They manage pupils’ behaviour highly effectively with clear rules that are consistently enforced.
  • Teachers provide adequate time for practice to embed the pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills securely. They introduce subject content progressively and constantly demand more of pupils. Teachers identify and support any pupil who is falling behind, and enable almost all to catch up.
  • Teachers check pupils’ understanding systematically and effectively in lessons, offering clearly directed and timely support.
  • Teachers provide pupils with incisive feedback, in line with the school’s assessment policy, about what pupils can do to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. The pupils use this feedback effectively.
  • Teachers set challenging homework, in line with the school’s policy and as appropriate for the age and stage of pupils, that consolidates learning, deepens understanding and prepares pupils very well for work to come.
  • Teachers embed reading, writing and communication and, where appropriate, mathematics exceptionally well across the curriculum, equipping all pupils with the necessary skills to make progress. For younger children in particular, phonics teaching is highly effective in enabling them to tackle unfamiliar words.
  • Teachers are determined that pupils achieve well. They encourage pupils to try hard, recognise their efforts and ensure that pupils take pride in all aspects of their work. Teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils’ attitudes to learning.
  • Pupils love the challenge of learning and are resilient to failure. They are curious, interested learners who seek out and use new information to develop, consolidate and deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills. They thrive in lessons and also regularly take up opportunities to learn through extra-curricular activities.
  • Pupils are eager to know how to improve their learning. They capitalise on opportunities to use feedback, written or oral, to improve.
  • Parents are provided with clear and timely information on how well their child is progressing and how well their child is doing in relation to the standards expected. Parents are given guidance about how to support their child to improve.
  • Teachers are quick to challenge stereotypes and the use of derogatory language in lessons and around the school. Resources and teaching strategies reflect and value the diversity of pupils’ experiences and provide pupils with a comprehensive understanding of people and communities beyond their immediate experience.

So let’s have a look at those key ingredients and what they mean for us in the classroom:

Key Ingredient: What it means for MFL teachers:
Transition information We need a knowledge of where the children are coming from.  We need some idea of how much language tuition the children have had, what language and how effectively it was taught.  This is more applicable to year 7.  As far as year 8s and 9s are concerned, you will need an idea of where they finished at the end of year 7.
Challenge Is your work demanding enough?  I don’t mean simply sticking an extension task on a starter or a reading activity.  Are you sufficiently challenging that little lass who finishes the task seconds after you have explained it?  Should she have finished that quickly?  Are your tasks differentiated enough to keep all students challenged and engaged?  Could you give different students a different task?  How could you reward risk-taking with the language?
Pupils views ARGH?!   What would they say about your lessons?
Parents views Informed by the above as few parents have likely seen your superb lesson on the future tense!
Scrutiny of work From this I understand the following:

1)      Pupils must be seen to be making an effort and doing well and this should be seen through their exercise books.

2)      There must be some evidence that their abilities have improved.  You can do this through various ways.  Some staff will use charts with “can do” statements or it could simply be that there are less corrections in the book later in the year.

3)      There must be some work that is not “too easy” for them where they struggle.  Struggle is part of learning so that is not a bad thing.  If it is all ticked and correct then it could be interpreted as too easy.

4)      Feedback should inform and foster improvements in knowledge, understanding and skills.  For more on feedback see here

Subject Knowledge Must be evident along with questioning.  Questioning varies depending on subjects.  I think certain subjects have it easier than MFL but students could deduce a grammar rule if given sufficient examples and then go on to some structured practice of that rule.  If you are thinking of ways to develop your subject knowledge then look no further:  Keeping your languages up!
Effective Planning No time wasted and all resources readily available and accessible.  They may not want to see a lesson plan per se but would expect to see a well planned MFL lesson.  This is probably the best thing I have read on planning an MFL lesson.
Behaviour Management Clear rules and consistently enforced.  I would argue that there is nothing wrong with removing a student whose behaviour is detrimental to the progress of the rest of the class, even in an observation.
Adequate practice time Pupils must be allowed enough time to practice and embed what they are learning.  There must then be a definite increase in demand and evident progression in difficulty of the material covered in the lesson.  Practice in MFL will obvious take place through different skills but it is worth considering: how do they link to your overall objectives in that lesson?
Checking understanding Understanding must be checked and any misconceptions identified.  You can probably tell who will struggle so maybe set the class a short activity that they can use to demonstrate their learning, while you go and help those who need it.
Challenging h/wk Homework could consolidate, extend or prepare the students for future work.  It should do all of these.  More on homework here
Literacy and Numeracy Whilst numeracy is harder to shoehorn into MFL, literacy is very much the bedrock of what we do.  Start using grammatical terms and do not shy away from them.  You’re a language teacher and probably a fan of the odd reflexive verb, subordinating conjunction or relative clause.
Pupils know how to improve Pupils have to know how they can make their French/Spanish/German better.  What does their book tell them and what does your classroom wall tell them?
Challenging stereotypes As MFL teachers we are in an ideal place to do this and hopefully avoid situations like the recent awful match of the day video where the presenters butcher the French language.  I’m not giving you a link, as a football fan I find it embarrassing.

OFSTED’s descriptions miss out one major feature of teaching that I believe is key to delivering outstanding lessons and that is relationships.  Admittedly you can produce an outstanding lesson that meets all of the above boxes but there is likely to be one question in the observer’s mind that also needs answering: “would I be happy for this person to teach my kids?”  Your relationships with your students will answer that.  John Tomsett says: ‘Fundamentally students need to feel loved and I really don’t care what anyone might think of that, to be honest, because if I know anything about teaching, I know that is true.’

What could I do now? 5 things to try this term.

If you’re English then make a cup of tea before contemplating the following:

  1. Build those relationships.  Grab your seating plans or markbook and find 3 students per class who you are going to develop your relationship with.  How are you going to do that?  Will you be teaching those kids next year?  Who knows?  Do it anyway.
  2. Key Ingredients.  Pick one of the key ingredients that you need to work on.  In your planning for next week incorporate it into every lesson.  Yep, that’s every single one.  It’s all very well reading a blog post but you have to act on it.  My Headteacher likes the phrase purposeful practice.  To paraphrase Aristotle, “we are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence therefore is a habit not an act.”
  3. Share.  Share the OFSTED descriptors or key ingredients above with your department.  What ones do you want to work on over the coming weeks?  What do you need to put into place for next year?
  4. Gained time.  Can you devote some of it to CPD?  Who in your department is good at challenge, differentiation, target language use?  Who could you learn from?
  5. Power of praise.  I used to do termly phone-calls home to a parent to give some positive feedback on a student.  I’ve slipped on this and may well do a few in the coming half-term.  Shaun Allison writes about them here.  You could also do an email although make sure you personalise it.  One simple phone-call has massive potential in terms of relationship with the pupil, their parents and the parents of other students.
  6. Consider September.  Yep, right now!  September is where we set the tone, set the patterns and culture in our departments, what would you like an observer to see if they entered your classroom?  What needs to be part of your practice?
  7. Iron sharpening iron.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (biblical proverb).  I love this proverb as it applies to most areas of life. Another person can always be guaranteed to sharpen you and smooth out the rough edges.  Most NQTs have a mentor and most PGCE trainees do too.  Once we exit that process, we are on our own.  Who could you work with to improve your own teaching?  Can you get them to pop in and watch?  No notes, no agenda, no judgments and no threat, but just someone there simply to develop your practice.

Further Reading

Indicators of Outstanding – a blog post by education adviser Mary Myatt.

Great Lessons – a series of blogs by Tom Sherrington (Headteacher) on what makes for great lessons.

An Outstanding Teacher – short blog post by Shaun Allison

Six Steps to Outstanding – I read this when I was starting as an NQT and found it useful.

Pupil Premium & MFL

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We’ll start with some words from Number 10 Downing Street:

“The Coalition Government introduced the Pupil Premium in 2011 to provide additional school funding for those children classed as having deprived backgrounds, and also those who had been looked after (by a local authority) for more than six months. The Service Premium was also introduced for children whose parent(s) are, or have since 2011, served in the armed forces.” Source Material for super keen readers.

Regardless of whether you agree with the idea of the Pupil Premium and the considerable emphasis placed thereupon, it is here to stay.  I have to be honest that over the past few years I have had mixed feelings and a lot of questions about it: what about children who fall ever so slightly above the threshold?  What about students with parents in the forces that actually do not access the funding and do not want it?  Can it make that much of a difference?  Are we in danger of over-emphasizing it?  One headteacher’s blog wrote about the disadvantage gap being a chasm.  It is a complex issue but not one we should shy away from.

Earlier today our SENCO shared this picture:

It reminds me that my job is a teacher is to ensure that every pupil has a chance to achieve.  For some those boxes in the picture will equate to extra funding from Number 10 and for others the boxes are the process of scaffolding and lesson planning.  For some pupils the boxes symbolise my teaching, my feedback and my attention or time spent with them.  Feedback has been covered here, support and scaffolding for lower ability has been covered here and here.  Today we are looking at the Pupil Premium.

Why Pupil Premium Students struggle:

Pupil Premium encompasses a variety of different situations.  It should never be confused or used as a synonym for low ability or behavioural difficulties.  Both might be true but they are not always the case.   I have done my best to list the struggles and the type of student in the table below.

Type of Pupil Premium Student Explanation
Free School Meals Eligibility for free-school meals is used as an indicator of poverty. It may be that such students eligible come from homes that do not support their education in terms of material resources, or in terms of assisting with homework.  Other needs might be more basic in terms of uniform, cleanliness or communication skills.
Service Children Children with parents in the armed forces are often eligible for the pupil premium. In my experience this presents slightly different issues in terms of T&L. Some students will be anxious as a result of the situation the parent is in and the infrequency of contact. Other students may need no help at all as the other parent works and provides for them.  There is a wide spectrum of need when it comes to this type of student.
Children in Care Inevitably these students will have varying issues. Much depends on the reason these students are in care, and at the same time, the quality of care they are currently receiving. Children in care are often quite well supported but struggle in other areas possibly in terms of development, communication and social skills, or mental health.
Ever 6 This refers to the fact a student may have been eligible for the pupil premium in the past 6 years.  It is worth knowing as whilst the student may no longer be eligible; there may still be needs that require meeting or they may only have moved slightly above the threshold for FSM.

What is suggested to be effective?

Having read OFSTED’s report on how schools are using the pupil premium.  They mention a number of ideas but many relate to SLT and governance.  The following are their suggestions for the classroom:

  • Effective teaching and learning for pupil premium students – just teach great lessons everyday.
  • Target support effectively.  How are you moving students forward?  What support do they have?
  • Know the desired outcomes for PP students, not always age related but higher.
  • Know your pupils.
  • Deploy your TA effectively  (see previous blog post here).
  • Enhance their thinking, study and revision skills (see blog on revision here).

They also say the following:

“Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement, they never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels and thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why.”  

Having read around the subject it appears there is a “no excuse” campaign going on.  Social deprivation, familial background, home situation, low attendance and level of need are not excuses (see 2013 presentation by OFSTED here).

In short, the pressure is on…

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What can we do in MFL?

There are a lot of questions below designed to provoke thought and hopefully action.

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Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Data tracking – Analysing data has become a necessary part of the job.  Whilst we may find it tedious, it is a means to an end.  The end should be answering the following kinds of questions:

  • Are your pupil premium students where they should be?
  • Are they attaining in line with their targets (grades 5-9, positive progress 8 score, FFTD, or whatever you use)?
  • If they are not attaining then you need to be asking why?
  • Is the underachievement isolated to MFL or is it more widespread?
  • Where are they achieving?  Why?
  • How can you use that knowledge to your advantage? What has that teacher or department done?  What are they currently doing?
  • Could another member of staff give a pupil a bit of encouragement that causes them to see your subject differently?  Is their tutor/head of year/achievement leader (or whatever your school calls the role) pushing them to achieve in all subject areas?

Targeted Questioning  

Some teachers would advocate a system of no-hands-up whereby any questions are directed at PP students first and then at other key groups (underachievers, more able, SEND, disengaged boys).  On a seating plan I do have key individuals highlighted and will more often direct my questions towards them.

Others might add on to this the idea of “no opt out” where the kid is not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  It is entirely up to you how to run your classroom.

Quality first marking/feedback.

A suggestion from another school was to mark all PP books first in the pile as you are freshest and most alert.  It is hard to dispute the logic if that is true for you.  Personally, I find my marking gets better after the first three or so.  I would need to adapt that strategy slightly.  I do have some issue with the ethics of this approach, as every student should be receiving decent feedback from me.  There are also students out there who may not be in receipt of the Pupil Premium but actually fighting battles at home on a par with, or worse than those who are classified as disadvantaged.  It is up to you as a teacher to differentiate accordingly.

Seating plans – Some of my colleagues advocate seating all PP students in the same seat in their room so they always know who they are.  Others advocate sitting them at the front of your classroom to enable them to seek help.  Yet more suggest surrounding them with pupils who can positively influence them.  It is up to you as a teacher to decide and you probably have your own views, but we have to know who they are and we have to be able to answer the question: how are you catering for their needs?

Strengths/weaknesses analysis – this was quite a useful exercise with my year 11s.  Looking at the data I had, their performance in class and their books.  What are their strengths and weaknesses as far as language learning was concerned?  Do they know what their strengths are?  Are they playing to them and working on their weaknesses?  One of the issues with the new GCSE is the many elements: speaking, listening, reading, writing, translations, photocards, roleplays, target language questions, target language answers, 40 words, 90 words and 150 words.  What bits are they doing well?  What do they need support with?  I have seen teachers on some MFL Facebook groups looking for “quick wins”.  Actually, could it be a case of looking at the individual pupils and picking one area they need to develop that is going to make the most telling difference in terms of marks?

Resourcing in school – This could be hotly debated and there is a strong argument from both sides.  Lend them equipment or don’t lend them equipment, it’s up to you.  Similarly the  issue is the same with books, do you let them take it home?  Much also depends on the individual pupil.  For some pupils you will never see the book or pen again, others will have it back in the subsequent lesson.  Perhaps for those who persistently struggle the school could supply a pencil case that could be picked up from a central point and returned at the end of the day?  Rewards could also be used to ensure its return.

Bought resources

  • Revision guides?
    • A note on guides – having examined a few I am leaning towards CGP.  I just feel their explanations and layout are more accessible.
  • Revision workbooks?
    • Some exam boards offer these full of past paper style questions.
  • Photocopiable booklets from TES?
  • Learning websites such as samlearning.com and Vocabexpress.
  • Twilight sessions.
  • Revision sheets with QR codes containing links to good sites.
  • MFL revision conferences (one school in Peterborough did this – found via google)
  • Half-term revision sessions.

With all of this there is a caveat: you need to evaluate how effective and helpful it was.  This is very much something OFSTED and the DofE are looking at.  It is no longer simply a question of how are you using the money.  The assumption is you are using it; the question is what effect is it having?

Resourcing the student with strategies and techniques

Do your PP students know how to revise effectively?  I hear from year 11s various comments on learning styles and about highlighters and gel pens however the research shows these to be largely ineffective.  If you are curious about how to make revision more effective then I suggest the following:

The Guardian – The Science of Revision – excellent article with links and research to back up.

EverydayMFL – GCSE Revision – Here’s one I made earlier, nothing like a bit of shameless self-promotion!

Classteaching – quality advice and backed up by research.

Anything to prevent the eventuality below:

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Relationship – Some students need someone to believe in them in spite of their home background.  They need that person who sees them for who they are and what they can become.  They need someone who sees them as a work in progress and who will not give up on them.  They need you to be the person who appreciates them just as they are, but cares too much to leave them that way.  I am not saying you have to be their best buddy but you can be the role-model, support and guide to life that they have lacked.

“Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Teaching Assistants – Teaching assistants can be the unsung heroes and heroines of your classroom if deployed properly.  These are the questions you need to be thinking through:

If you have one then what is their remit in your classroom?

  • Do you direct them or leave them to it
  • Do they have a seating plan and know who they are meant to work with?
  • Do they have an order of pupils?
  • Could you promote independence by asking TA to move on after 1-2 minutes with a student?
  • Do they elicit or explain?
  • Do they guide to the answer or give the answer?
  • How well resourced is your TA?  Do they have your schemes of work?  Do they see a lesson plan or do you brief them on what is going to be taught?
  • Who is working harder: your PP student or your TA?
  • Could you get some planning time with a TA attached to a particular student?

Parents – Not all PP students have difficult family situations so get the parents onside.  Be careful not to patronise.  It is very easy to assume certain things when the label PP is on a seating plan or class list.  Parents evening is an excellent opportunity to build relationships, develop that link between school and home and facilitate learning and progress.  One parent recently asked me “what can they be doing outside of school as I don’t speak any languages?”  2-3 minutes later she left armed with strategies and places to find resources to help.  In terms of cost, it was minimal but there is a huge potential yield.

Marking Meetings – One of my colleagues recently suggested this at a meeting.  I’m quite keen to try it.  It used to be the norm when I was in school.  Certain teachers would call you up to their desk and go through your book marking it with you while the class were working their way through exercises. Would a pupil premium student benefit from some live feedback and a discussion of misconceptions?  Equally, this could apply to all pupils but if you’re going to work through a group, why not start with some PP students?

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Any great ideas?  Leave them in the comments section below!

Everyday Feedback & Marking

Update: Government publish results of review into marking.  It’s worth a read and the three principles of “meaningful, manageable and motivating” are sound.  

Feedback and marking conjure up a variety of responses.  Some teachers secretly enjoy it. Some would like to drop their marking pile in a woodchipping machine.  If you are reading this because you want to improve your feedback then hopefully you find something new to try.  If you are snowed under then I would point you in this direction.

We know from research by people such as John Hattie that feedback can be incredibly important.  Two videos that demonstrate the importance of feedback and how it can be used well are below.   The first: Austin’s Butterfly, has done the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and in schools.  Watch for the kid at about the 45-50second mark with his encyclopaedic knowledge of butterflies…

The second video shows that over time with a diet of quality instruction and effective feedback people generally improve at whatever they are doing.  Pay attention to his control, his reactions and his speed.  It is one way I get the kids to “buy in” to my marking and then the subsequent reflection time.

 

Feedback or Feedforward?

I know, “feedforward” is not a word but this came from a discussion with some colleagues the other day.  Most students do not care about the work they have done once it is over.   They care about the next piece.  So whilst our feedback is reactionary and responds to what they have done, they are already looking at the next thing.  One colleague said that he gets students to copy the target from the previous piece of written work at the top of the next piece of written work they are set, so that it is in their mind while they are producing it.  If you are following Mira 2 then you maybe approaching a module on clothes.  Here is how you could apply this:

Homework 1: Produce a 75 words on things you wear at different times

Student completes piece of work with the following 2 targets

  1. Try to use a greater variety of vocabulary
  2. Add reasons to opinions given

Homework 2: write 75 words about a party you went to and what you wore

Student writes at top of work

  • TARGET: Use greater variety of vocabulary.
  • HOW: no repeated nouns or adjectives where possible.

Suddenly we have a situation where the feedback informs the next piece of work.  This means the next piece of work is not only a response to the marking but it is also driving the learning forward.

Do you use coloured pens?

Schools vary on this.  Here are some of the ones out there I have heard about:

  • The purple pen of progress.  This is for improvements to work or redrafting of work.
  • The pink pen of pride.  This is for work a teacher wishes to highlight as particularly good or because of how well the task has been met by what has been written
  • The green pen of growth.  This incorporates targets to improve.
  • The green pen of peer assessment.  It’s for peer assessment, the clue is in the name.  It is quite a good way of visually defining who did the marking (more for observer than the kid)
  • The red pen of teacher marking.
  • The turquoise pen of…you’re just making it up now!

I have seen coloured pens used really effectively in one of our feeder primary schools.  The presentation of their work is stunning too particularly given a very tough catchment area.  Something goes wrong between the Summer of year 6 and the Autumn of year 7, cynics might suggest it’s adolescence…

Highlighters

My new favourite.  This came originally from a colleague in Bristol and a colleague currently on maternity leave.  Underlining an entire piece of work in different highlighters.

  • Green = good leave it as it is
  • Yellow = something needs correcting

You could add some codes such as  (G) = grammar  (W.O) = word order  (S) = Spelling    to aid understanding where needed or just let the yellow stand for itself and force the burden of correction and thought back on to the pupil.  Some may disagree but I find this visually powerful for the kids.  Weaker ability kids who receive a piece of work that is largely green with one or two hints of yellow get a massive morale boost from this.  Even the ones that get more yellow than green benefit as they still appreciate knowing that at least some of it was right!

Stamps

Ross Mcgill who runs the Teacher Toolkit website has a post about verbal feedback stamps. I see no point in repeating him.  However many stamps can save time and I have benefited from the stamp stacks supplied by a website out there.  The stamps contain things such as:

  • “please give nouns a capital”
  • “please take more care over presentation”
  • “please watch your verb endings”
  • “great work, keep it up!”

DIRT

I mentioned DIRT mats in this post.  There are a number of things you can do to maximise DIRT time.  Firstly, make it really clear what you want students to do with the time and how you want them to do it.  Secondly, refuse to take any questions apart from ones concerning your handwriting for the first 5 minutes.  Lastly in that first 5 minutes, focus on the ones who need your attention most.

Prove to me beyond all reasonable doubt

My Head of Department posed a difficult question last week: “early on in year 7 when you have an able kid getting everything right, what feedback do you give that drives their learning forward?” I happen to have just such a year 7 so here is what I tried.  When we have done grammatical exercises, her DIRT task has been to “prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you can apply the grammar points from the previous lesson using pages … of Mira 1,2,3”.  She then gets on with exercises that challenge, extend, consolidate and deepen her learning.  Sometimes the grammar book used is not the regular one (e.g: listos rather than Mira or the GCSE foundation book if I was feeling really mean).  She has responded really well.

Patricia’s problems page.

Patricia is a student I teach who struggled with a new language: German.  We decided that at the back of her book we should have a problems page.  Initially, I did not mark much of her work to keep her confidence levels high but we had an ongoing dialogue on the problem page.  It was not triple impact marking or deep marking or excessive dialogue.  It was just an honest conversation where she could ask the questions she did not want to ask in class.

  • “I get that the verb goes second, what if you have two or three verbs?”
  • “How do you form questions?”
  • “Why can’t German be easier?”
  • “What is the difference between denn and weil?

Feedback sheets

TES is full of these.  Rather than writing the comments then they can be on a sheet.  This can be very effective but again the sheet has to be meaningful and linked to your assessment criteria.  I remember marking an oral exam with another teacher and they suggested I listen to the amount of subjunctives and connectives the student was using.  The problem is that the Edexcel Speaking mark scheme does not really mention either.  If you are going to produce a sheet like these then make it a good one.  The question the sheet needs to answer is not only “what do I need to work on?” but also “how am I going to go about it?”

Formative Comments

For a while we ran with comment only marking and to an extent we still do in that pieces of work are not graded.  It can be very easy to get into a rut of formative comments.  The following are based on the new GCSE Writing mark scheme (AQA is the only accredited one I am aware of).

Content Quality of Language Accuracy Language Specific
Stick more closely to the
question
Include greater variety of tenses Check genders Spanish accents only go one direction: /
What else could you say about? Use a greater variety of opinion phrases Check spelling Please give nouns a capital
How could you make … clearer? Find more interesting adjectives than “aburrido”
and “interesante”
Check verb/adjective endings Check direction of accents
Aim for longer, more detailed sentences Include more complex clauses and structures Check accents Check use of avoir/etre

If making comments then they should be demanding a response.  Mary Myatt has some points to make on this here.

Subtle comments.

The exercise book is a way of communicating with your students.  Do not underestimate the power of a well-placed positive comment.  Matt Walsh’s blog has a brilliant post worth reading called “to the quiet boring girl in the class“.  Sometimes they just need a little encouragement.  One of the most talented students I have ever worked with once said to me “why must it always be “to improve”, why can’t I just be good for a few seconds?” Here’s the challenge: pick the quiet kid that doesn’t contribute much in lessons.  Look through their book, find a piece of work, single out the positives and finish with a comment about how much you valued the effort and thought that went into it.  If you need convincing of the effect you can have then read this.

“I thrived on the quiet praise I was given” – Emma Thomas

Everydaymfl’s Marking & Feedback

I’ve outlined a lot of different stuff here.  I’m sure you have lots of other idea.  If you saw Everydaymfl’s books, what would he hope you would see?

  1. Underlined date, title and label as to class or homework
  2. Legible work.
  3. Pieces of work marked with highlighters.
  4. Codes where absolutely necessary but very few to force the student to examine their work.
  5. 2-3 targets at the end of work with how to improve.
  6. DIRT task for the student to work on (using purple pen).
  7. Some elaborate positive comments – not just “well done” but “this is great because.”
  8. Challenging and redrafting of poor quality or poorly presented work.
  9. Regular marking (half-termly)
  10. A comment somewhere to make the quiet kid feel ten feet tall.

5 Things to try tomorrow

5 Things to Try Tomorrow

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I’m snowed under with marking, reports and grades at the moment.  So here’s 5 ideas which helped me procrastinate, which you may like to try tomorrow…

Target Language Answers

How do your pupils respond at the end of starters, reading activities, listening activities?  I’ve started getting my classes to use the following:

  • creo que es …A,B,C etc
  • pienso que es
  • podría ser …
  • Estoy seguro que es …

It’s a simple way of drilling in key phrases and it keeps the lesson in the target language. I thought it might slow things down but it hasn’t.  Even better is that students are using them and they are appearing in their work.

Dice

Such a simple thing but so versatile.  Get a set of 6 sided or 10/12 sided dice.  Try any of the following:

1    me gustaría trabajar                                 con animales

2   mi amigo le gustaría trabajar                 en una oficina

3   mi profesor debería trabajar                   como domador de leones

4   no me gustaría trabajar                            al aire libre

5    mi mama debería trabajar                      con la gente

6   mi papa debería trabajar                          como profesor estresado

Or 

1    Give an opinion about … using ich denke, dass

2   Give an opinion about .. using gefallen

3    Give an opinion about … and add a weil clause

4   Give an opinion about … using gern

5   Give an opinion about …. that adds a sentence in another tense

6   Give an opinion about  … using meiner Meinung nach

Or vocabulary revision

1/2  Partner names 5 words on topic of …

3/4 Partner gives 5 adjectives on topic of …

5/6 Partner gives 5 verb phrases on topic of…

or create your own…

“Hide your whiteboards.”

The credit for this one goes entirely to a trainee teacher who gets better and better with every lesson.  She insists that students keep mini-whiteboards under their chins once they have written and then they raise them on her instruction.    Copying other people is one of my pet hates and this eliminates it and also forces the “less motivated” (bone idle) to work harder and produce something or it’s really obvious.

 DIRT mats.

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Our school has introduced DIRT time.  One pupil suggested it be called “time for improvement, reflection and development” but then realised that “TIRD” had a slightly unappealing ring to it.  During that time, my focus needs to be on the students with genuine questions about how to improve their work.  The rest need to get on.  These mats are editable and really easy to adapt.  Despite the fact they are aimed at KS1 and KS2 they can be adapted and used with all years.  My experience so far is that the younger years like the Pixar one and my 10s & 11s feel that the force is strong with the Star Wars versions.

 

Hands up listening

This came courtesy of Nick Mair on a course.  It is incredibly versatile and quite effective in terms of assessing the skill of listening.  It also shows you who your best listeners are.

The teacher talks in the target language.  Students have 3 options: left hand , right hand, both hands.  You assign something to each hand.  Maybe it is “opinion”, “reason”, “two tenses used”.  Or “sensible”, “idiotic”, “mixed”.

Here are two examples using Mira 1, which would lead to students putting both hands up.

  • “En mi casa hay un salón, un comedor y una cocina.  Había un baño en el jardín.”
  • “En mi casa hay un salón, un comedor, una cocina y un baño.  Arriba hay un dormitorio, el dormitorio de mis padres y el dormitorio de mi tortuga.”

 

Credit to www.cooltext.com for the cool text effects.

 

Everyday Homework

Leading headteacher Tom Sherington writes on his blog “great teachers set great homework”.  In fact, he dedicates an entire blogpost to it.  I thought I would do the same but with an MFL slant.  I’m sure I have set some good homeworks and some bad ones in my time.  Below is a buffet of homeworks.  It will allow you to add to your plate the ideas you like, whilst avoiding those that you don’t.

One of the best bits of the blog mentioned above is this:

“The research by Hattie et al shows that homes make more difference to learning than schools. So, take away homework and what do we have? Essentially, homes with the greatest cultural capital, typically more affluent and middle class, will just fill the gap with their own family-education as they always have. They’ll be fine. Meanwhile, children from families where home-learning is scarce or simply doesn’t happen are left without structure or resources to fall back on. The same inequalities that give children such different learning orientations from pre-school persist. I’d argue that homework for all is a basic element of an educational entitlement; it is a leveller – provided that schools offer support for ‘homework’ to be done anytime, any place.” – Tom Sherrington September 2nd 2012

So, how can Everyday MFL teachers such as you and I make sure that learning continues outside the classroom?  Just as feedback and marking should drive learning forward; homework should do the same!

Vocabulary learning

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Well that was obvious wasn’t it!  As MFL teachers, we know the value of vocabulary learning but how can you ensure that they have actually learnt it.  One method I have used in the past particularly with lower ability learners or year 7s is the look, cover, write, check sheet.  You can find an example on the TES here.  There is also one that I would recommend with your weakest students at this link.

Sites such as Languages Online, The Language Gym, Linguascope, Memrise, Duolingo, Pons Vocabulary Trainer all have their place and role to play.  The Language Gym focuses quite heavily on conjugation.  This excellent with the advent of the new GCSE and the greater focus on being able to manipulate language.  Memrise I  like as it forces the students to type the vocabulary and produce it, rather than simply reading.  I’m a big fan of the phrase “reading is not revision” so this site is right up my street!  Languagesonline is also excellent.  The only issue I have with these sites is you cannot see which students have done the work!  I believe Vocabulary Express does allow such things but have yet to try it.

Rachel Hawkes suggests that students should achieve a certain amount of points from a selection of activities to prove they have done their homework, using a variety of different techniques.  Too many students will simply stare at the words and assume that some osmosis will occur unless they are given specific tasks to do.

I tend to teach the students as much as possible about how to learn vocabulary early on.  Look, cover, say, write, check can be very effective.  Flashcards and mindmaps equally so.  By testing it, you will give it value.  By sanctioning unacceptable performance, you will find students are more likely to do it.  I’m not going to give a minimum acceptable level as sometimes that can vary depending on the student.

A couple of colleagues in another department have recently experimented setting the same vocabulary for 2-3 weeks with lower ability classes.  They have tested them each week but only taken in the marks on the third time.  Looking at the books, they have found that the students improved and their confidence was boosted by this process.  I would argue the amount of reinforcement also helped.  You could do this with some high-frequency language for your weaker groups.  It is an experiment I would certainly like to repeat.

The multi-skill homework.

Currently my favourite!  Why set homeworks that test only one skill??!  This epiphany came to me at some point in the middle of a lesson!  It has only taken 5 years to have it.

Slow German, Audio Lingua, Conjuguemos and the websites previously mentioned might allow you to set a variety of different tasks.  My current year 10 were set the following last week:

  1. Listen to this podcast on audio-lingua
  2. Complete following exercises on languagesonline and samlearning
  3. Produce dialogue for … situation

I’m allowed to set up to 50 minutes worth of work so I might as well go for it!  I was not exactly popular when I did this.  Once the rationale was explained, most students went for it.

Exam boards also have past papers on their websites, that would easily allow multiple skills.  Again the specimen papers for the new GCSE could be used in this way.  Admittedly speaking would be out of the question but listening, reading and writing would all be possible.

The worksheet

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There are some brilliant worksheets out there on websites such as TES and the excellent Frenchteacher.  Having said that, you might have a low photocopying budget so I would encourage you to create your own or borrow bits from other people and condense it on to a single page.  The big question with the sheet is: does it make the students work hard?  Does it take them from a level where they might follow a model to get the answer to being able to apply the grammar rule?  With the appearance of translation in the new GCSE, this could be a place to include it?

 

 

The paragraph

Produce a paragraph on … Produce two paragraphs on …  These can often be effective as it gives the student time to work on something using what they have learnt.  However, beware the evils of googletranslate.  This website, long the bane of the Everydaymfl teacher, is getting.  Students shouldn’t need to recourse to it if they have been taught how to use wordreference.com correctly, or if they have sufficient resources on your VLE, in their book or on paper.

Have you considered a point scoring paragraph?  Higher point scores generally indicate better work…

5 10 20 25
Simple connecting words More complex connecting words More complex structures
um…zu
ohne..zu
ausser…zu
ni…ni
bien que…
The amazing mindblowing structures
to really impress examinersKonjunktiv II
Konjunktiv I
Si hubiera pensado…
French subjunctive
Simple time phrases More complex opinion phrases More of the above More of the above
Simple adverbs Less common adverbs Less common adverbs More of the above

Another idea would be to ask students for an ASL calcuation.  Average Sentence Length.  They need to divide the amount of words by the amount of sentences.  Scores of 7+ indicate they are probably using opinions.  Scores of 12+ indicate they are justifying those opinions.  Scores of anything higher and they might need to consider the occasional full stop!

Have you considered banning certain words from their paragraphs?  Some of the below would be top of my list!

French German Spanish
ennuyeux langweilig aburrido
interessant interesant interesante
amusant lustig divertido

The example sentences

Regularly I will set my learners a task to produce some examples using a grammar point we have worked on.  This is mainly because I want to see if they can do it outside the classroom without me and also to reinforce the material at a later date.  The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve suggests they will have lost some of it after the lesson so this is my attempt to fight the curve!  Perhaps suggest a theme for their example sentences:

Future tense: “what Homer Simpson will do at the weekend”

Past Tense: what”insert celebrity” did last week

 

The Culture Homework

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Photo Credit: Arttesano via Compfight cc

I tend to set one of these once a half-term (homework is weekly).  Students are naturally curious and like to learn about the country.  I remember, when I was in school years ago, a couple of homeworks from my language teacher: “find out what you can about who won the election in Germany?”  Gerhard Schröder was the answer, which seems like a long time ago now, probably because it was!  Students  like to know about the place, not just the language.  However, we are language teachers and so the homework should be proportional to what we do.  I would also counsel that you tell them to avoid the blindingly obvious and go for a more horrible histories style in their research.  “Madrid is a city in Spain” is the kind of thing you can open yourself up for if not careful!

I have highlighted my favourite one in orange.  Google it, you will see why it is such a cool festival!

French German Spanish
What is “la marseillaise” actually about? What is Karnival? What happens at “la tomatina”?
Find out 10 facts about the French Revolution Find 10 facts about the fall of the Berlin wall Produce a poster showing what happens at “las fallas”
What is Bastille day? Who is Angela Merkel? What is Yipao and why is it celebrated in Colombia?
What is Mardi Gras? Produce a timeline of major events in
German history starting from 1800
What is día de los muertos all about?
How do the French celebrate Christmas? 10 Facts about any German city Produce a short biography of Franco or another famous  figure from Spanish history
Who was Marie Curie? Who was Hans Riegel from Bonn? Who is the current King of Spain?
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not Paris. Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Berlin or Munich
Find out 10 facts about a city that is not
Madrid or Barcelona

Flipped Learning

I’m a bit of a skeptic at the moment when it comes to this.  John Hattie claims that along with effective feedback; clarity of explanation is crucial in our teaching.  Most youtube videos teach a grammar rule and then explain EVERY exception known to man.  If you are not confused by the end then it is because you got up to make a cuppa 2-3minutes in.  I think there is a place for it, but video selection needs to be carefully done.  Then the students need to do something with the knowledge to reinforce it, otherwise it is just another video.  The questions the teacher needs to ask are as follows:

  • Is this better than explaining the concept in class with worked examples?
  • Is the person on the video easy to listen to?
  • What will I do about students who do not watch the video?
  • Should I use the video to introduce or consolidate?
  • Is the video clear, too fast, too slow?

 

If you have read this far then well done but don’t forget it’s half-term.  Enjoy yourself, rest, have some fun, have some more fun and be ready to go again on Monday.

 

 

Getting ready for the new GCSE

It’s almost here.  Regardless of the fact that 3 out of 4 exam boards are yet to have their specifications approved by OFQUAL, we have to begin teaching towards it in September. I’ve been thinking about how to prepare my year 9 learners for what is coming, in terms of topics and skills.  Here are some things I have tried out:

Modalverben – regular drilling.

German teachers will be familiar with modal verbs.  They are 6 most common verbs and are combined with an infinitive  The same can be done in Spanish but there will just be more of them and they take different forms.  I want my students to be completely proficient with these most common verbs so that they can use them spontaneously with infinitives.  If you had 10 minutes to prepare for an exam, having a mental arsenal that contains

I have to / I like / I should / I want to / I can etc along with some infinitives, should be useful to them.  We have been having regular sentence making drills on mini-whiteboards.  Over time I have added in some opinion and reason phrases.  If you are in doubt about whether drilling is effective then the video below is

Roleplays

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I found the old roleplay cards and we will be using them in the coming weeks.  If you don’t have them then there are some specimen papers on the exam-board websites. Those can be used and adapted.  Rather than writing a section, I will refer you to a previous blog.  A recent post on Frenchteacher also is worth a read.  Do your students know enough multi-purpose transactional vocabulary?

Spontaneous Speech

Students are going to have to be a lot better at generating language spontaneously.  Yes they can be drilled in rubric, roleplays and discussion but there is a greater emphasis on producing the language unaided.  With TL rubrics in the speaking elements, this could be even harder.  Rachel Hawkes has some worthwhile suggestions here.  She also has a Phd so I will leave it in her capable hands.

Speaking from pictures.

Rachel Hawkes illustrated this brilliantly on a recent course I went on.  It is about encouraging learners to use what they have learnt.  It does not matter if they cannot say what they want to say.  The question is what can they say?

What might a year 7/8/9 be able to do with the following picture?

  • Es una fiesta.   Hay un elefante.  Me gustan las fiestas.
  • Creo que es una celebración porque hay mucha gente.
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Photo Credit: chooyutshing via Compfight cc

Equally with this you can get the students to predict the questions that might be asked.

New Topics

I’m borrowing from AQA here.

  • Marriage/partnerships
  • Social media
  • Mobile technology
  • Customs and festivals in TL speaking countries
  • Charity/voluntary work
  • Poverty/homelessness

This looks more interesting than “self, family and friends”.  The hard bit is working out how these might be examined.  How can we teach them and make them accessible? See the table below:

NEW GCSE
Topic from AQA How it could be examined Implications for teaching practice
Marriage/partnerships Speaking – discussion or picture
Listening
Reading
Writing – essay or translation question
Students need to be able to give
their opinions on this topic.
Discuss with RE department to 
ascertain prior knowledge, stumbling blocks and
stereotypes.
Social Media Speaking – do you think it is a good thing?
Listening – text about someone who uses
Reading – text about social media
Writing – essay or translation question
Need to teach a variety of multipurpose
vocabulary as the range is so wide.  Students
need to be able to give opinions on it, use
frequency adverbs and explain why it is a good
or bad thing.
Customs and Festivals Speaking – is celebrating things important?
Listening – report about an event
Reading – text about an event
Writing – less likely, possible translation
Teach major festivals at various points of the year.
Day of the dead, san fermin, la tomatina, las fallas.
Students will need a cursory knowledge of the well-
-known festivals
Charity/volunteer work Speaking – should young people do it?
Listening – account of someone’s job
Reading – account of someone’s job, charity
website?
Writing – should young people do it?
Teach students phrases to structure arguments and
create extended responses.
Poverty/homelessness Listening
Reading – text on developing world
Echo 3 and Mira 3 do a bit of this.  Discuss with
geography, is there a case-study or unit of work that
you can link this too.

 

 

 

 

5 things to try tomorrow

5 things I’ve tried this week.  You could try them tomorrow…

Picture Starters

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Mira 1 gets students describing their teachers.  I wanted to see how much my year 7s  could remember so I demanded between 3 and 5 sentences based on a picture I showed them.  Initially I typed in angry teacher into google and used one of them before using an image of Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society.  I was pleasantly surprised what they were able to generate.

Me gusta el inglés porque el profesor es interesante

En mi clase hay un profesor interesante

Odio el inglés pero el profesor es interesante 

This one came from Greg Horton.  You can learn more about the work he does here, the big O seem keen on him.

Hands up listening

In an era of no hands up being in vogue this one goes against the grain.  The teacher can prepare the listening phrases and it is really good in seeing who in your class has the best auditory processing skills and is an effective listener.  It may well surprise you.

Mano derecha Opinión positiva
Mano izquierda Opinión negativa
Dos manos no hay opinión

You read out a sentence and depending on the content, the students put a right hand, left hand or both hands up.  This idea came from Nick Mair and I’ve tried it a few times since.  It also can be massively adapted with tenses, negatives, comparisons, conditionals etc

Forms and Functions

An idea from the effervescent Rachel Hawkes.

1) Past A) Future plans
2) Present B) Uniform
3) Future C) School rules
4) Negative D) description of school
5) Comparison E) Teachers
6) Conditional F) Other students
7) Sentence with two tenses G) Homework
8) Sentence linked with subordinating conjunction h) Stress

The students could do this with mini0whiteboards or a series of exercises could be set on the board and students work quietly through them.  The teacher demands a 1A sentence from the students.  This might mean that the student has to write about future plans whilst incorporating a past tense in there somewhere.  5E might be easier as students would simply compare two teachers.  It is great getting them to think about content, meaning and including the right things in their work.

Literary texts

My year 8s are reading Peter Pan together.  I picked it up for 75 centavos.  I’ve taught them about reading around both sides of an unfamiliar word (deducing meaning from context).

Deducing meaning from what has gone before

Bob entered the kitchen and saw his son doing the dishes.  His son threw a ______ at him.

The most obvious suggestions the students generate are dishcloth and sponge, along with some other, rather imaginative ones…

Deducing meaning from what has gone after.

Bob entered the kitchen and saw his son doing the dishes.  His son threw a ______ at him, which hit Bob and shattered into pieces.

Why do it?  It is mainly to stop them getting hung up on the one word they do not know.

We have also done a fair bit of work on infinitives and knowing the little words such as “de” “el/la/los/las”  “un/una”  etc.  Someone reads out loud before we look at what is going on.

Authentic Texts

The hotel boca juniors powerpoint on the TES was good for getting students working with some authentic material.  Here are some I am looking to try out:

Quinoa – bit of reading for healthy living and food topics

Farting cows – animal/environment topic maybe?  Might need simplifying…

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Photo Credit: blackcatcara via Compfight cc

 

 

 

Unsung Heroines: TAs & MFL Lessons

I have to admit I do quite like the Guardian column: “the secret teacher”.  It doesn’t possess the same power to surprise and entertain as The Secret Footballer (another column in the same paper) but that’s probably because I’m a teacher and I know how the world of teaching works.  I did however read one article this week on Teaching Assistants and was appalled at this statement: “the majority of the time, TAs add nothing to my lessons.”  The author prefaced it with some positive comments but it’s sadly just a rant at an ineffective TA they work with masquerading as journalism.

I’ve worked with some great TAs over the years.  Here is how TAs can add value to your MFL lessons, as they have done to mine…

Resource them

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Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Give them a copy of the scheme of work, textbook, vocabulary and if they have computer access then let them access what you will be covering so they can plan ahead.  Every TA that I have done this for has been thankful and more effective as a result.  It might be your TA has no language qualifications and hated languages in school.  I’ve found that type of TA is great as they can feedback on things that you do that maybe do not help the understanding of some of your less able students.  If you can discuss the lesson in advance with them then do it.  Some of the TAs I have worked with have even started using apps like Duolingo and Memrise to build their language skills outside of lessons.

Direct them

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: `James Wheeler via Compfight cc

If they are attached to an individual then discuss that child with them.  Decide how much you want them to pay attention to that child.  Decide whether you want them to step back at certain points or stages of a lesson.  You might want to let the child struggle a little bit in the practice stage before stepping in.  Equally you might want them to be silent in the presentation stage.  Shaun Allison writes about an interesting experiment his school are conducting with Teaching Assistants and how they are focusing less on the tricky kids and leaving them to the teacher.  It’s something I want to try with my bottom set year 8s.

Encourage their creativity

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

I had one TA who took aside a small group of kids to teach them how to tell the time in English before we covered it in Spanish.  That same TA made paper clocks with movable hands.  Another printed off flashcards for her student with a statement.  A third one suggested a food-tasting so we did it as the group had been particularly good.  They were instrumental in making sure it ran smoothly on the day.  They are also great at displays.  I’m a man and I’m useless at such things.  When you let their creativity run wild you get some fantastic results and great comments from senior staff about your displays.  At which point you credit your TA of course…

Build a great working relationship with your TA

TAs normally have a good amount of experience or they are very young and only 2-3 years older than year 11s.  The former respond really well to the question “what do you think about…?”  The latter respond well to “I would like to do this, shall we give it a go”.  Students need to see that you and your TA are like Batman and Robin, Jack Bauer* and Chloe O’Brian, Morecambe and Wise etc.  Any hint of that not being the case and students will start playing you against each other.  Students need to know that any slight on your TA is a slight on you, and has no place within your classroom walls.

*Please do not model your teaching style on Jack Bauer in terms of approach or working hours.

Give them feedback

Most TAs are observed at some point in the year.  For some, they will rarely get any feedback otherwise.  Most are conscientious people and want to do their jobs well. Feedback needs to be kind, specific and helpful just as you would do with any student.  “I noticed you spending a bit of time with Brendan, which was great.  Jenny is also struggling quite a bit so next lesson I would like you to work with her and see if you can build her confidence.”

Let them feedback to you

TAs will notice things that you don’t.  Although the kids might believe you to be an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent teaching machine, you are not.  Stop dreaming.  Occasionally, your TA will spot bullying, name calling.  Merely being sat lower down next to someone they will notice more than you will. Others might spot a student doing something other than the work you wanted from them.  I have had one TA criticise me quietly for being too harsh on a student.  She was right. It takes a lot to swallow your pride in moments like that.  She did it in exactly the right way, and for the right reasons.  Both student and teacher were better off for that quiet post-lesson conversation.  If it’s appropriate, then create a climate where mutual feedback is professional and constructive, as I found out, everyone wins.

Get some simple CPD from them with one question.

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Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine via Compfight cc

If a TA is attached to a class and has been at the school for a few years this question can tell you where to go for some good observation based CPD: “which teacher would you want your kids to be taught by?”  If they say you then demand someone else but be secretly pleased inside.  That’s secretly pleased; not openly smug!  That person has seen at least 10 different teachers a week, possibly more and those practitioners will change yearly or termly.   There’s a reason they picked that one so go and find out what it is!

Thank them

Every lesson I make a point of saying “thanks for your help Miss”.  It’s a small gesture but goes down well.  Since we’re approaching that time of year, Christmas cards are also good.  If you have one who you work with frequently, then something red or white and in a bottle goes a long way in terms of gesture but may not go a long way that evening!

TAs do a lot of great unseen and under-appreciated work.  

Hopefully some see this post.  

Share it, if you have a great TA.

5 things to try this week

Half-term – where did that go?!

Anyway, here are 5 simple things to try this week…

Mini-whiteboard Vocab Scrabble

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You need some large tables, mini-whiteboards and pens.  Start by writing a word across the middle (a long one).  Students score points for the following:

  • Point per letter
  • Point per letter of word they create and the word it bisects
  • Double points if the word links to the topic from the previous half term (another way of making it stick).

Alternatively you can use paper but mini-whiteboards are more environmentally friendly 🙂  If you’re feeling nostalgic you can do it with a whole class and an OHP.

 

 

Odd-one-out remix.

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Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon via Compfight cc

Give students a line of 4 vocabulary items on the same topic and a big capital letter at the end.  They have to invent the odd one out.  Again you could demand that they recycle knowledge from a previous topic.

 

livre    cahier   professeur  etudiant           M

 

Find 5

Great way to build vocabulary.  If you have access to dictionaries, picture dictionaries or Usborne’s first thousand words.  Get students to find 5 of something so they broaden their vocabulary.  Try to avoid them getting hung up on finding the duck!

Taboo

Talk or write about a topic without using certain words.  In the cases of one or two students, I’m going to declare war on the next individual who uses interesante, aburrido, bueno, malo, emocionante.    

Mark – Plan – Teach

I’ve been reading a little too much on the Teacher Toolkit website but I like this one.  It should be the way we approach marking.  I have just marked a set of year 8 assessments and whilst most did what was asked of them, there are a number of errors that I want to sort out.

  • It would appear most of them have great command of possessive apostrophes in English but these do not exist in Spanish yet nowhere in Mira 1,2, or 3 does it cover this.
  • Me gusta + Me encanta are often followed by conjugated verbs so that needs sorting.
  • ie and ei keep getting confused so some phonics drilling is probably in order.

Making it stick!

Possibly the biggest lament of language teachers in my department and across the country is this: why do my students insist on writing “me prefiero”, “me gusta juego” and “mi gusta”?!  Is my teaching really that ineffective?  Are my students so inattentive?  What on earth is going on?!!!

Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rnav18 via Compfight cc

Making it Stick – 5 ideas for increasing the right kind of retention

Palabras importantes

At the end of the unit I talk my students through the key vocabulary that they need to take into the next one.  I go through on the board what the most important phrases are and put them into groups.  For year 7 Spanish it might look as follows:

Verb phrases Little words Question words Others
(no) Hay el/la/los/las Como y
(no) Tengo un/una/unos/unas Que también
es de Por que
necesito en Cuando

They are then set homework to learn these phrases and tested on them in the subsequent lesson.  I find it gives them value and increases the likelihood of remembering the key vocabulary rather then being able to say “lápiz” and “monedero” but not being able to do anything with them!

Palabras importantes part 2

2-3 weeks later I test them again on the same words.  It adds value and reinforces their importance.

Flowcharts and process

Students are used to these in other subjects.  They use them in technology, science, maths and even history when composing essays.  I have been teaching my year 9s the future tense and the conditional.  They have a sheet in their books that has the endings and the persons along with a table of irregulars.  Breaking it into steps is working even for the weakest ones.  Chris Fuller made a pertinent point in a webinar: the past and present take away from infinitives; whereas futures and conditionals add to them.  Most of them in a middle set can now take the majority of Spanish verbs and turn them into a “will” or a “would”.  On the whiteboard, I put a flowchart which simply says 1) “what is the English action?” 2) “what is the verb in Spansh?” 3) “go to table in book” 4) “who is doing it?” 5) “add that ending”.  The issue now is sorting out the past and present tenses!!

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Photo Credit: orangejack via Compfight cc  Scarily I can see my students working their way through this process in their minds!

Practice, practice, practice.

I have increased the amount of grammatical practice in my lessons this year and it is gradually working.  There has been a lot of animosity in schools towards textbooks, however they often have some very good exercises and I have seen multiple powerpoints on the TES resources ,which replicate the book word for word.  Even Elodie, Patricia and Gert are still in the exercise on the PowerPoint!  So why not just give the kids the book?!  Again, with my year 9s, I have increased the practice they do using a combination of books, Languagesonline and the Language Gym websites.  It is taking effect with the dedicated ones.  The question is now what to do about the less-dedicated ones but that is another blog post!

Clarity of Explanation

In a survey of teaching by John Hattie, the following things were found to be most effective:

Daniel Willingham writes in his book “Why don’t students like school” (i’ve blogged on this book before) that “deep knowledge must be our goal”.  This is borne out by the effect sizes above of instructional quality and quantity.   Willingham explains the following two principles:

  1. We understand new things in the context of things we already know.
  2. We therefore need to ask “what do students already know that will be a toehold in understanding this new material?”

I teach German and one thing I have been trying to do is to link new learning to old learning at every opportunity.  For example, we tackled weil with a nice animated powerpoint showing the verbs moving to the end of the clause.  We then considered “wenn” and “obwohl” before tackling “ich denke, dass”.  Before I introduced ,weil we looked at what they knew of clauses in English and introduced the idea of a main clause and a sub clause.  This might sound very basic and something that you do all the time but I find that quite often textbook schemes of work do not have this link from one element to the next.  For example: Mira 2 introduces tener que, poder, querer and “le gusta” in the space of two pages.  The next chapter does not reinforce them at all.  Neither do the three after that!

Learning from the best

Some people have a nice little page of links.  I’ll be honest, I have not worked out how to do that, yet!  Here are some of my favourite places to go for ideas!

Sometimes you need to look at things in a different way for ideas.

Photo Credit: VeRoNiK@ GR via Compfight cc

Here are a few places that I’ve picked up ideas from:

Frenchteacher  – Steve Smith, an experienced French teacher has a blog and resources site.  I have picked up a lot from his teacher’s guide and his writing on various MFL related themes.

RachelHawkes – Unsurprisingly written by a lady called Rachel Hawkes.  There is a wealth of information on here, powerpoints regarding the latest developments in MFL and a real focus on generating spontaneous speech (she has a Phd to show for it).  Rachel seems to run a lot of CPD, blogs for the TES and also lectures on PGCE courses.  How does she manage that and teach MFL?!  Answers on a postcard…or if Dr Hawkes herself is reading this then seriously, how?!

Headguruteacher – Tom Sherrington writes a lot of very insightful material relating to all sorts of issues.  He is not an MFL teacher but there is a lot you can take from his writings on teaching and learning.  His series titled pedagogy postcards is worth a look.  The recent post on Maths Mindsets could equally apply to languages.

Gianfranco Conti – is a prolific MFL blogger.  His posts relate research and theory to our classroom practice.  He also has a website for students called the language gym and I’m reliably informed that there are exciting plans for that site, although the name does remind me of: this.  His most recent post  well worth a read, along with his thoughts on resilience in MFL classrooms.  Inspiring and thought-provoking material every few days.

Classteaching – Shaun Allison’s blog with it’s titular play on words is well worth a look.  Shaun’s posts tend mainly to focus on teaching and learning with a view to constantly sharpening our classroom practice.  He also blogs on assessment after levels and other areas of school life.  His diagram “expert teaching requires” sums up his philosophy as far as the classroom is concerned.  There is also a plethora of resources, links and ideas on the site.  This blog is eminently readable and updated weekly.

Morgan MFL – This has not been updated since March but contains some useful material particularly for teaching tenses.  This “Yorkshire lass” also has some good youtube videos on her site.  If enough people click on the link maybe the spike in views will convince her to keep it going!  

Teachertoolkit – If Gianfranco Conti is prolific, then Ross Morrison Mcgill is the blogging equivalent of Duracell.  He just keeps going and going and going…  It’s also high quality stuff.  Again, not a specific MFL blog but regularly updated, very current and relevant material.  His 5 minute resources reduce some of the administrative burden as well as providing food for thought.  His most recent post concerns verbal feedback stamps, which fortunately have not yet darkened the doors of my school.  The first bit is a good-humoured rant, the latter half is particularly applicable to the classroom (see mark-plan-teach).

Dom’s MFL Page – Possibly one of the first MFL blogs I read, mainly by searching MFL blogs via google!  Some good resources for teaching and also includes A2.  Try not to get freaked out if your speakers are on full and the French word of the day blasts out.  His posts contain a great deal of useful ideas and are often peppered with good humour.

Chris Fuller – I came across Chris Fuller on an ALL webinar.  He comes across as a great guy and enthusiastic MFL teacher.  His website has a number of creative ideas including the Shelterbox Challenge, PE in Spanish and teaching year 9s about the legalisation of marijuana in Uruguay.  It’s a far cry from the traditional year 9 topics of “me duele la cabeza” and “para llevar una vida más sana…”  (although I could see those slipping neatly into the marijuana module).

Lastly, for those who like the feel of paper in their hand, or new book smell, I wholeheartedly recommend the following:

The Craft of the Classroom – Michael Marland

Cracking the hard class – Bill Rogers

Why students don’t like school – Daniel Willingham

Improving teaching so my students don’t wish they went to Hogwarts.

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: TRF_Mr_Hyde via Compfight cc

Over the summer I worked my way through Daniel T Willingham’s book “why don’t students like school?”  It is an exceptionally readable book.  Willingham introduces the principle that underpins the chapter, developing it with explanations, examples and humour before applying it to the classroom.  The cognitive psychology presented is therefore easy to understand, yet remains academically satisfying.  I’ve learnt a lot from this book and would recommend it as excellent CPD.  The book considers questions such as “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?” “Is drilling worth it?”  and “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?”  The final chapter then directly challenges teachers.  It is also greatly helped with a summary table at the end that sets out the cognitive principles of each chapter, a question to prompt your thinking regarding your students and important classroom implications.

What am I taking from the book?

◊ Changing the way I do starters.  My starters often take the form of testing some knowledge from last lesson to see if it has been retained.  Now, I want to assess further back and make sure that the starter tests the requisite knowledge for the lesson I am about to teach.

◊ “Memory is the residue of thought”.  How can I get my students to think more?  I’m planning to make sure I give more time for thinking rather than simply picking a fast-thinking student.  More think-pair-share might be used in eliciting grammar rules that I present students with.  What would a mentally demanding MFL lesson look like?  Would my students be able to cope with it?

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: mgjosefsen via Compfight cc

◊ Proficiency requires practice.  I’m planning to set longer and tougher homeworks this year (in keeping with school policy).  I wonder if sometimes homework does enough consolidation.  I also want students to take more responsibility for their learning outside the classroom and Teacher Toolkit has an idea of “takeaway homework” that I would quite like to try.  Why is it that the musical students are happy to learn their lyrics or their scales but cannot apply the same drive to vocabulary or conjugation?  Is it a question of payoff or do I need to tailor the practice to them in some way?

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc  evocative of my own piano playing…

◊ Proficiency requires practice 2.   I’ve also considered experimenting with DIRT time (directed improvement and reflection time).  Some very funky editable mats can be found at the mathematics shed.  Willingham suggests thinking about what material students need in their working memory and long term memory and practising it regularly over time.   Spreading out the practice (or interleaving schemes of work) is something I need to consider.  The idea my students need to gain is:  “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended periods of practice.”

◊ Relationships are key.  Willingham reminds us throughout the book that the “emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn”.  He also makes the point that this has to be combined with a teacher who makes boring material interesting and accessible.  I want to make sure that every child in my classroom gets some of my time.  I’m planning to trial live marking with a class this year.  Live marking is where the class work on a task while you go around marking some books allowing students to see what you think and discuss it with them.  As well as marking and handing back books that I have done after school, I want to give this approach a go here and there, particularly with the students I feel get less of my attention.

Lastly, if you appreciated the photo at the top of this blog, then check out Hogwarts’ OFSTED report.

GCSE Revision Lessons

It’s that time of year again (no, sadly not Christmas).  Most year 11s are taking a pummelling from all sides with a revision sized baseball bat.  How can we do revision effectively in MFL?  It would appear to me there are three key areas. 1) Teaching exam technique 2) Vocabulary refreshing and/or building 3) Revision technique

Exam Technique

Certain things are guaranteed on an exam paper and students need to be aware of this.

  • There will be a question on tenses – can they spot them?  Sometimes time markers play a role here.  Students need to be aware of the features of each tense.  Chris Fuller made a good point that anything future adds and anything present/past takes away in French and Spanish.  If they  spot an infinitive it is likely a future tense unless preceded by an opinion phrase.
  • Higher level papers will often mention all three of your multiple choice options.  The trick is working out the right one.  Two are probably close to right so listen carefully the second time to these.
  • Exam boards have to promote SMSC just as schools do, students need to remember the exam is written for teenagers.  When the question says “What are Karla’s views on smoking?”  The answer is unlikely to be “it is harmless and we should all just light up now”
  • Exams follow a peak-trough model where harder questions are preceded by easier ones.  They need to make sure they do not give up too quickly.
  • Leave nothing blank!  I’ve had students get 5 extra marks in a past paper.  When the kid said he got an A, he shocked most of his classmates!  He later admitted not answering 8 questions but guessed them and was rewarded for it.
  • Some subjects have introduced walking/talking mocks.  I prefer to brief students before they do they paper, allow them to make any notes of reminders and then let them go.  Closer to the exams the briefings get shorter.

Vocabulary refreshing / building

  • Mindmaps, lists, flashcards.  Give students a topic and make them produce a mindmap with the use of nothing more than their brains.  Then let them have access to support materials to add to it and increase their knowledge.  Alternatively get the person next to them to add to it and pass it around a group of 4 to grow it as much as possible.
  • Make a tarsia puzzle.  This involves chopping up a sheet of A4 into 8 pieces and writing matching English and German along each inside edge.  The idea is to put the paper back together again with every English and German definition matching perfectly with no text around the outside.  They can be automatically made here.
  • Lots and lots of listening practice.  Some great advice on teaching listening can be found courtesy of Dr Gianfranco Conti here.  Some reasonably good advice can be found here (shameless self-promotion).
  • Vocab wars – give two students different lists of vocab which they quickfire at each other.  Winner gets a prize.  Make own lists for subsequent lesson.  Allow a mark if they get it right or if they self-correct quickly then allow them a point.  Works on demotivated bottom sets, did it earlier today.
  • Ditch the highlighters, they involve minimal cognitive demand and all the vocabulary is important.
  • Avoid teaching huge amounts of cognates as the students can work them out with considerable ease.  Focus on the more challenging language.  Would you rather a kid knew anrufen or telefonieren?
  • Websites are useful but should not be the sole revision tool of a student.  Linguascope intermediate and languagesonline.org.uk among others will be able to help
  • PQRST Past Paper Method – possibly the best thing I have come across in a while for making a past paper effective
    • Preview: revise the topics before tackling the paper.
    • Questions: now do the paper.
    • Review: see questions below
    • Scribble: note any new vocabulary on the paper that was not known.
    • Test: test yourself two or three days later on that vocabulary to check retention.
  • Past papers should not just be an end in themselves.  Completing a past paper is good but using it to push revision and learning forward is better.  Students should be looking at the following after completing a paper:
    • What new vocabulary is there that I didn’t know?
    • Did I miss out on marks from misunderstanding the question requirements?
    • Did I miss out on marks because I didn’t know the material?l
    • Did I miss out an answer – the crime above all crimes on an MFL paper.  When the odds on a correct answer are 33% or higher, missing answers out is silly.

I have a mixed ability GCSE group with grades ranging from A*-G.  It is a two year fast-track German course.  I have seen many good ideas on the secondary mfl facebook group but due to the nature of the course there is simply not time for trivial pursuit, jenga or balloon towers.  They do look fun though!  Below is a typical revision lesson:

Topic: healthy living and lifestyle

STARTER: activity that refreshes their memory of large amounts of vocab eg: odd one out, make a mindmap, 30 word vocab test German–> English or English–> German.

MAIN:

Present: a revision activity students could do at home on any topic but model it with this one.

Listening practice using past exam questions or revision workbook questions.  Immediate feedback and discussion of where the marks were won and lost.  Suitable for both higher and foundation although leaning towards higher.

Split class into two groups

Highers do some practice reading questions on the topic while foundations do practice listening appropriate to their level on the topic, then they switch.  Students doing the listening will be talked through how to approach the question, what the question is looking for and any handy strategies that come to mind.  We then attempt it.  Those doing reading are largely left to it.

Set homework: revision via vocabexpress / samlearning / past paper / make a mindmap / make a tarsia puzzle / languagesonline

PLENARY: 

Students then may face one more listening text (because you can never practise this enough) or another vocabulary building activity based on my experiences over the course of the lesson.

 

Revision Technique. https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/supporting-learning-through-effective-revision-techniques/ This one blog post gave me a lot of ideas.  I don’t think I can improve on what Shaun Allison has written so enjoy. Lastly, show this poster to your students (thank to Chris Hildrew).

dont-be-upset-poster

5 ideas to try this week

Sorry for the lack of posts, things got busy at work so here is a double whammy.  One of the 5 ideas to try series and the other is a collection of thoughts on GCSE revision.

1) No ICT at all

I think we can become too dependent on computers.  The phrase “death by Powerpoint” is not a new one.  Kids are largely unsurprised by anything we can do with a computer.  So how about turning it off for a lesson (apart from your register of course).  The other day with my French class we had a lesson with no ICT at all.  They did not have to even look at a screen.  It was great!  Everything was old-school.  We had flashcards, card sorts and all manner of activities but nothing involved a computer.

2) Giant scrabble

Great way of stretching pupils thinking skills and knowledge of vocabulary on a particular topic.  Put as many mini-whiteboards together as you can.  Start with a word in the middle.  Pupils get a point per letter for their word and a point per letter from any word it bisects.  You could make it a team effort if you have large classes so two pupils work cooperatively.  My old German teacher used to do this on an OHP, we loved it but the mini-whiteboard version allows everybody to be involved.  I’ve also tried adding challenges such as: include words on the theme of … (double word score), include a particular grammar item (triple word score).  The possibilities are not endless, as that is a cliché, but there are quite a few.

3) Differentiated dice speaking.

I might have posted this one before but it keeps with the no-ICT theme above.  Give pupils dice.  If you can buy some D12s (12-sided dice) then do.  You then have the following options.

  • Put 2 sets of  numbers 1-6 with vocabulary (eg me gusta and school subjects) pupils roll the dice twice, say the phrase and their partner translates
  • Give them a task per number of the dice to revise material covered over the year.
  • Give them a task per number of the 6 sided dice and then a modifying element with the twelve sided (heavyH on prep but great for stretching the kids).

4) 50-50 Hands up/hands down

I’ve seen some classes where the rule is no hands up and others where the rule is hands up all the time.  I’ve been trying a mixture of both recently and it’s working.  It maintains the engagement as both other methods have two distinct problems.  The no hands up rule is great but only if the teacher makes a point of picking on all class members.  It can easily lead to picking on the brighter ones,  further the learning and progress of a class.  The latter has an issue as it allows the quieter members of our class to hide.  I find this one neatly counters both.  It shows you who is keen but allows you to keep all members of the class on their toes.

5) Murder mystery  https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/murder-mystery-lesson–food-and-drink-6091212

Brilliant resource by the exceptional rosaespanola  on TES revising foods, likes and dislikes.  My only concern is that my bottom set did a better job than my top set.  The language was quite challenging  and the task is not particularly easy.  If you use it then give it the 5* rating it merits.

New term – a great time to raise your game.

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope you had an excellent Christmas and a promising start to the new year.

I’ve decided this should be a simple post about things I will try this term, starting next week.  There are numerous aspects of teaching that I want to improve and various ideas that I want to try.  All of it is aimed at trying to make my lessons the very best they can be.  While inevitably some lessons will go better than others, I want the return in terms of learning to be high every lesson.

Here are 4 ideas I want to try in January:

1) Experiments with excellence

I’ve been reading a little about Ron Berger and his “ethic of excellence” and his insistence on feedback and how it can drive improvement. Whilst Berger teaches in a relatively unique setting I wonder if his ideas can be applied in an MFL classroom.  My year 8 Spanish class will produce a postcard from a holiday but rather than it being a week long homework at the end of the topic, we will draft it over 2 weeks before they do a final version at the end of the topic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqh1MRWZjms

2) Speaking/Translation tandem

Inspired by a Bristol colleague.  Students have phrases on a sheet of A4 with alternating Spanish/English.  They have to say what they think is the phrase and their partner can nudge them towards a correct version.  It should have the effect of reinforcing grammar structures, raising translation as an activity (with the new GCSE in mind) and could work quite well.  Probably will try it with year 7s or year 10s.

3) Insistence on TL

All students have phrases in their books they can use but I’m really going to push it this term.  I want to see if we can get lessons where there is an 80/20% ratio of Spanish – English.  To this end I plan to have 3 things in place:

i) A TL monitor – a student I trust who can monitor my TL usage and that of the class.  They will have a traffic light card to indicate this.  In lower years this will probably be referred to as the Spanish Sy

ii) TL phrases on wall – students need to use these in responding after a listening exercises or wherever possible.

iii) Rewards for students who use most TL, this will be monitored by my TL monitor.

4) Live marking

That is “live” in the sense of “in the moment” not live as in “live, breathe, eat, sleep marking.”  I saw this suggested on another post.  A teacher picks 8 students and aims to mark their books whilst the students are on a task of some description.  The marking then finishes with a question relating to what he/she has seen and demands a response.  Our students have to respond to our marking, this might be a way of encouraging it.  They are more likely to respond if I am stood next to them marking their neighbours book.  It might also be a way to reduce the marking load.  We will see.

Stretching your best students

Whatever your view of G+T, it is clear that the brightest students in your class need pushing to achieve.  In a climate where languages takeup at GCSE is rising as a result of performance 8 or EBACC measures, A-level and university courses are experiencing decline.  A simple google search shows that in 2012,2013 and 2014 a major newspaper reported on the decline in A-level languages. Our best students should be the ones going on to study it yet most are not. There are blogs which explore and consider why.  Rather than do that, I thought I would share some of the things that I have tried, with varying successes.

Before looking at some ideas there are three questions you need to consider with extension work:

  1. Is the work I am giving them going to deepen their understanding?
  2. Is the work I am giving them going to consolidate their understanding?
  3. Is the work I am giving them suitably challenging and is there a suitable time frame in which to complete it?

Ideas for the classroom or outside of the classroom

Reading

  • Encourage regular independent reading in TL – encourage use of sites such as http://www.cuentosinfantiles.net
  • Authentic materials – what is there that they can go and get and work on if they finish early?  Can they spot the grammar point in a real-life context?
  • For boys encourage them to read www.juanmata8.com , the lethal mediocampista (midfielder) has a bilingual blog.

Writing

  • Picture response activities really allow for creativity. Show students a picture, they could then…
    • write the conversation that is taking place
    • write the events that are taking place  (present tense)
    • write what they think will happen next (future tense)
    • write what would happen if … (conditionals and hypothetical statements)
    • write what happened before (past tense)
    • do a mixture of the above (combining tenses)
    • write what the people should do (modal verbs)
  • Never settle for anything less than their best.  Insist on expanded answers in any plenaries/activities involving mini-whiteboards
  • Dictionary usage – encourage use of dictionary to improve and develop all written work.  Do you have a TL thesaurus?
  • French/Spanish penfriend scheme – get them involved if you can.

Listening

  • What else can they listen for?  Could they do a dictee from the listening recording if they get the answers first time around?
  • www.rtve.es/noticias/directo/canal-24h/    – Spanish news
  • www.france24.com/fr/  – French news     (opportunity to watch live on right hand side of page – pop up window opens
  • www.ard.de – same as the two above  Tagesschau is good short snappy news burst
  • Encourage listening to musicians: Manu Chao (FR/SP), Juanes (SP), Amaral (SP), El Tri (SP), MC SOLAR (FR), WISE GUYS (GER).
  • Encourage them to try a foreign film with subtitles in the TL and the audio in the TL.

Speaking

  • Interviews with TL speaking person are always good.
  • Insist on TL in the corridor, in class and if they have to use it then they will.  It will also develop habits and confidence.
  • Run a twilight session with a focus on improvisation and spontaneity.  They really do benefit from this.
  • Insist on elongated answers comparisons, contrasts, subordinate clauses, do not accept them lowering their standards to fit in.  If you have to then do the speaking test with them in the class but have everyone else working.
  • If playing the trampa game mentioned on this blog,  quietly challenge one to cheat on every go, or alternatively stack the deck.  I tried the former with one student and the intellectual challenge was something that they thrived on.  The morals are debateable but then the game is called cheat.

2 final salient points

1)  Encourage use of previously learnt language in all written and spoken assessments.  G&T students always want to do something new but the challenge should also be to include EVERYTHING they already know as a means of consolidation and a showcase of their abilities.

2) Check they are not sprinting before they can walk.  It goes against everything I have said above but they if they are playing around with subjunctives and still struggling with present tense forms, then you might want to sort the foundations out before building any more of the house.

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets

I’ve not quite cracked it with KS4 yet but i’ll have a go at ideas for key stage 3.

Having taught a number of bottom sets in the past 3 years I’ve learnt the following:

1) The next level is quite a big jump in their minds

2) Memorisation, literacy, behaviour and confidence are your main battlegrounds

3) Positive reinforcement has to be relentless – yep even for that kid you just thought of. 🙂

4) Relationships and rules are of equal importance.

5) They are reluctant to use the TL.

Some teaching ideas that regularly work:

1) Writing challenge (adapted from Rachel Hawkes)

Rachel Hawkes’ idea is to give an answer to a question that is exactly … words long 9/11/13.  The idea was to get students extending sentences with ,weil.   I’ve changed it a little.  Get a student to pick a number between 35 and 55 (whatever range you choose).  Then tell them that whoever can write a piece using everything they’ve learnt, the textbook and their exercise book gets a merit or whatever reward system you run with.  80-90% of kids will give it a good shot and be surprised that they can be quite successful.

2) Running dictations

Really good way of practising speaking, listening and writing.  Just make sure the runner does not have a pen or they will write the difficult words on their hand.  Caught a budding tattoo artist the other day.  Another thought: don’t make them too long.  Or if they must be longer put part II on another piece of paper somewhere else in the room and that way it doesn’t look like so much!

3) Bingo/Last man standing bingo

Bingo is exactly what it says.  Last man standing bingo is similar.  Write down four items of vocabulary on topic then stand up.  One student is a caller and goes through words.  If you have all four crossed out then you are out and sit down.  Winners are the last few left standing.  Good mini-test of listening skills and injects some fun into the lesson.  Think it might work well with Queen’s “another one bites the dust” music as they start to be “out”

4) Speaking bingo grid. 

You make a 4×4 grid of phrases you want them to use.  Students then have a time limit to use as many as possible making sure they make sense.  Their partner notes the ones that they use.  The person who uses the most  in the time wins.

5) Points for speaking/writing. 

You make another grid but the top row has various point allocations for what they say.  So depending on what you want them to use then give them various points (keep scores in 2 or 5 times table for easy adding).  Again give a time limit and set them off.  Award winners appropriately.

6) Teams idea (massive thanks to Bill Rogers “tackling the tough class). 

Get the students to write down someone they respect and someone they like.  Put your class into teams and give them points for everything: uniform, presentation, work rate, use of TL in lessons, helping others, helping put out equipment, being kind, answering questions, winning team games etc.  Take off points if they talk when you are or break other rules.  Keep this going over a term with a prize for winners at the end of the term.  Seems laborious at first but can engender really good habits and cooperative/collaborative learning.  Allow students to submit transfer requests at end of term that you will “consider”. Have done this 3 years in a row with tough groups and find I have far less bad behaviour and far less detentions.  Kids, particularly boys are used to team sports and it plays to their sense of competitiveness.

7) Reading reduction paper (thanks to my HoD although he swears he can’t remember having this idea). 

If students with weak literacy are tackling a tough reading text then give them a post-it note or an opaque ruler and encourage them to tackle it line by line.  I have found that the reduction of information bombardment helps and they can then work at their own pace.  It is a simple way of catering to students who find reading difficult.  It is also successful with dyslexics.

I think this post requires a part II sometime.  I’ve enjoyed writing it, hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and have something you can use.